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Apple to make iTunes more accessible for blind

Most teens listen to their music on digital players, but Cory Cadlik, who is blind, had to ask for help when he wanted to buy songs for his iPod from the online music store iTunes.
iTunes Blind
Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley, back left, stands by as Perkins School for the Blind students Cory Kadlik, 17, left and Laurie Cherry-White, 17, right,explore screen access software that provides full and equal access for blind consumers to Apple's iTunes, Friday, Sept. 26, 2008 at the Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown, Mass.Lisa Poole / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Most teens listen to their music on digital players, but Cory Cadlik, who is blind, had to ask for help when he wanted to buy songs for his iPod from the online music store iTunes.

To Cadlik, a self-described tech "geek," that was too frustrating to tolerate.

"For me to be as tech savvy as I am, and not be able to do something ... I hated it," said Cadlik, 17, of Medway, Mass. "I had one iPod. I got rid of it."

On Friday, Cadlik was making plans to get his iPod back after Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley reached agreement with Apple Inc. to program iTunes to make it accessible to anyone with software that blind people use to read the Internet.

Tony Olivero of the National Federation of the Blind demonstrated the technology at a press conference at the Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown. Olivero navigated through iTunes, guided by a voice that called out whatever he slid the mouse pointer over, including file commands and the movie, music and TV titles iTunes sells.

Cadlik planned to test out the new iTunes this weekend by sampling some hard rock from bands like Breaking Benjamin and Chevelle.

"You had no access before," Cadlik said. "When then this came out ... I said, 'Wow, this is great, this is awesome.'"

Under the agreement, Apple must make iTunes accessible to all systems by next June.

Providing equal access to online stores is required in the same way supermarket aisles must be a certain width to accommodate people with disabilities. But major gaps remain in the online retail world for blind consumers.

Coakley said a lot of industries are working to make the Internet more accessible because they know it's good business to give more people a way to buy your product. Coakley said she hopes the move by Apple inspires more copycats.

"Apple is the leader, they've become the industry standard," she said. "Other companies that compete will have to or want to do this."

Spokespeople for Apple did not return e-mails or calls for comment.

The new iTunes can be read on a Macintosh, though people with PCs must buy "screen access software" to make it work. It's pricey, retailing for around $1,000. John Olivera of the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind said discounts are available around the U.S., and the commission has purchased a substantial amount of the software and is supplying it free in his state.

As fun as movies and music are, Olivera said the state approached Apple primarily because of the increasing popularity of iTunes U, which provides lectures and other educational content from colleges and universities. Schools were posting class material there, and that created problems for blind students.

Apple worked with Coakley voluntarily, but at least one other case over online accessibility for the blind wound up in court.

In August, retailer Target Corp. agreed to pay $6 million in damages to plaintiffs in California who were unable to use its Web site as part of a class action settlement with the National Federation of the Blind.

Target and the NFB agreed to a three-year relationship during which the advocacy group will keep testing the site to make sure it is accessible to the blind who use technologies such as screen-reading software. The NFB said it would certify the site through its own certification program once the improvements are completed.